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Published: Tuesday, 1/10/2012 - Updated: 4 years ago

Machine claws away at Libbey, grads' hearts

Career center first on campus to fall

Demolition of Libbey High School begins.
Demolition of Libbey High School begins.

The excavating machine's claws dug into the brick of Libbey High School's career center, and Sue DiLorenzo's heart broke.

The 1975 Libbey graduate and longtime neighborhood resident watched a gaping hole grow in the building's wall and brick and concrete smash to the ground Monday as demolition began at the Western Avenue campus. Ms. DiLorenzo said the pain of the razing was too much to bear for her mother, a 1954 Libbey graduate. The daughter called her mother and held up her phone so she could hear the demolition begin.

"It's sickening," Ms. DiLorenzo said. "It's like someone took a crane and just ripped your guts out."

Preservationists and Libbey graduates tried for months to save the shuttered school, even leading a successful effort to place the school on the National Register of Historic Places, but their fight came to an end Monday when the career center's eastern wall fell. Demolition officially began in August with asbestos abatement, though some supporters still held out hope some of the building could be saved. Major work had been planned for December, but delays in cutting of utilities and acquiring permits pushed back the project.

The school's fate ultimately came down to dollars and cents, Toledo Public Schools officials said. The district closed Libbey in 2010 after years of declining enrollment. Officials estimate the building costs about $160,000 a year for utilities and maintenance even while empty. Meanwhile, TPS would have lost out on state funding for much of the demolition project if work had been delayed further.

Construction equipment sits in front of Libbey High School as demolition of the building begins. Construction equipment sits in front of Libbey High School as demolition of the building begins.

Attempts to find a buyer for the school were unsuccessful. The board of education approved a development agreement in April with the city to take over the field house and skill center, but the city declined because of the projected renovation costs. A last-resort public auction in August turned up no bidders.

Demolition should last several months, TPS chief business manager Jim Gant said. While the district will save operating funds by demolishing the complex, Mr. Gant admitted it was a loss for the community.

"Obviously, Libbey has a long tradition here," Mr. Gant said, " and we would have loved to have kept it, but we were unable to do so."

A handful of Libbey graduates and neighbors gathered along Western Avenue for the demolition Monday, which was brief and largely ceremonial, as work lasted less than 30 minutes. Some took pictures, two graduates briefly held up a Libbey Cowboys banner. Others simply watched.

Plans for the more than 40-acre property are not settled, Toledo Board of Education Vice President Lisa Sobecki said. The district is in the process of demolishing about two dozen properties; some may be sold, some reused, and others left as green spaces. Demolition work will cost about $1 million, with most of that cost picked up by the state.

Irma Selvera lives across from the school, and said she worries that crime will increase with the loss of Libbey, especially if the lot is turned into a park, which she felt would be overtaken by gangs. "I think it's just a waste of money," she said. "That school was good."

The school, which opened in 1923, was named for Libbey Glass founder and philanthropist Edward Drummond Libbey. It was designed by Edwin M. Gee, supervising architect for city schools at the time.

Warren Woodberry, president of the Toledo Board of Community Relations, said that Libbey's demolition was a lost opportunity, as community programs could have been housed in the school. Urban schools that are demolished often are never replaced by other development, he said, and lots are left vacant.

"This is the beginning of an era of gutting neighborhoods," he said.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.

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